Why Due Process Matters

by Avi Snyder

Over at Real Clear Politics, Peter Berkowitz takes on Swarthmore College, his alma mater, for its failure to respect due process in its prosecution of a recent sexual assault case. What makes Berkowitz’s piece unique, and so important, is his argument as to why colleges and universities must respect the core principles of free societies, including due process and the presumption of innocence.

He writes:

Another vital feature of liberal education consists of fostering an appreciation of the principles of due process. They are principles free societies have developed over the centuries to adjudicate controversies, establish guilt, and mete out punishment in ways that justly balance the rights of those who claim they have been wronged with the rights of those who have been accused of wrongdoing.

As Columbia’s Roosevelt Montas noted at ACTA’s 2013 ATHENA Roundtable, “all education is education for citizenship.” Much of this civic education happens in the classroom, where colleges ought to be teaching students subjects like U.S. History and Government. Yet, if we want students to absorb an appreciation for the values of a free society, our institutions of higher learning must also embody those values, and they must shape campus culture.

Free speech, due process, and presumption of innocence are bulwarks of freedom and justice. But in higher education, their significance can even be said to transcend the value of individual rights. Protecting them is a vital educational imperative, an indispensable part of modeling what a free and open society looks like.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle teaches, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. … [W]e become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

It now seems Swarthmore doesn’t “do” due process. So what will its students learn?